Connecting with patients in real-time has become an effective, and convenient way to coordinate important relevant administrative information - from appointment reminders to rescheduling upcoming sessions. Even more, messaging with patients in real-time has also become an accepted form of ongoing care between patients and care providers.
Therapists and other behavioral health specialists, may message a patient to check-in on patients, and use these conversations to gauge a patient’s progress. Messaging with patients can even offer signs to the provider that the patient is struggling and in need of more care. This type of real-time care helps to facilitate a relationship between healthcare providers and patients, driving better care outcomes.
However, while real-time messaging with patients supports a more modern form of healthcare, we can’t forget that HIPAA still needs to be upheld. Patient protected health information (PHI) needs to always be safeguarded, and as such, providers should endeavor to use a HIPAA-secure messaging app or other method of messaging with patients.
What is a HIPAA Secure App?
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is a federal law that required the creation of national standards to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent or knowledge.
A HIPAA compliant app for texting is a secure messaging solution which enables healthcare providers and organizations to safeguard patient PHI, but still allow for an open form of communication between providers and patients. A HIPAA-compliant app will meet requirements of HIPAA, ensuring that patient information is kept secure, and cannot be intercepted by unauthorized users.
Are Therapists Allowed to Text?
According to HIPAA Journal, HIPAA does not prohibit the use of text messaging in healthcare. It is perfectly acceptable for therapists, doctors, and other healthcare professionals to communicate with each other – and even patients – via text message. However, there are requirements that must be satisfied before any text messaging platform can be used for sending electronic protected health information. It is the responsibility of the care provider to ensure that a safe method of communication is being used, such as a HIPAA secure app.
Unfortunately, texting from a personal mobile device, while convenient, is not HIPAA-compliant, even if that mobile phone is only used for business purposes. Text messages take a complicated journey from one phone to another, and in fact, data is often stored on 3rd party servers. As such, the details of unsecure texting can be intercepted by unauthorized users at any point in time.
The HIPAA Journal goes on to disclose that texting patient information to patients is allowed provided the provider has warned the patient that the risk of unauthorized disclosure exists and has obtained the patient's consent to communicate by text. Both the warning and the consent must be documented.
While permitted under HIPAA, given the nature of the sensitivity of therapy care, therapists can better support their patients by choosing a secure messaging app that is completely HIPAA-compliant when using messaging as part of care services.
Is There HIPAA Compliant Texting?
The US Department of Health and Human Services offers guidance to app developers, to ensure that mobile health apps are compliant with HIPAA regulations. These guidelines facilitate messaging tools designed to safeguard patient data and secure data servers, to reduce (or eliminate) the risk of patient data ever being intercepted.
As such, there are many HIPAA-compliant apps for messaging today that can be leveraged by therapists. Below we review some of the solutions available:
When it comes to HIPAA compliant texting for therapists, one of the most comprehensive solutions available, Healthie offers an EHR, Scheduling, and Patient Engagement solution for therapists and other care providers, complete with a convenient web and mobile app. As part of their suite of patient engagement features, Healthie Chat allows providers to message directly (and securely) with patients in real-time without requiring a dedicated phone number. Healthie also offers a direct integration with Twilio to deliver automated SMS appointment confirmations and reminders.
Moreover, care teams are able to coordinate messaging efforts to patients through their Organization Chat functionality.
Designed to save time, and deliver engaging care, Healthie’s HIPAA secure app offers a range of plans from $0/month for solo providers, to support for behavioral health startups and organizations. Find a plan for your business.
Therachat is an app specifically designed for messaging with therapy patients. It keeps patient information secure, while allowing therapists to directly message with their patients. Therachat offers a mobile app solution for both providers and patients to use for on-the-go messaging, much like texting.
Artera is a patient communication platform designed for health systems, practices, and clinics. Fully focused on messaging solutions, Artera helps to reduce disjointed touchpoints among care team providers and patients.
Spok offers a HIPAA-compliant app for texting, paging, on-call scheduling, hospital call centers and clinical alerting. Essentially, Spok facilitates clinical communication, best serving clinical care teams.
Weave brings together a world-class phone system and a suite of communication tools, so it's easy to automate communication with patients. Weave offers two-way HIPAA compliant texting for therapists , supported on a dedicated business line.
RingRx provides a HIPAA compliant phone system, with the option to create an established business phone number. This enables providers to receive messages as well as phone calls from patients, accessible from a dedicated mobile app on their phone.
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